Question ‘The Ping’, from The Accidental Creative

There’s a chapter in the The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry that talks about focus as part of the creative rhythm and he begins with the things that can be distracting when we’re working towards creative solutions.

‘The Ping’ as he describes it is the tendency to alleviate boredom or tension by engaging with email or social media to escape a deep focus via a quick boost of dopamine. Consider that this tension could be an inherent part of the creative process and that dealing with this tension is a skill in and of itself.

We’re not doing ourselves any favors then by relieving that tension. That’s the uncomfortable energy we so desperately need to get us to an illuminating state of mind. These distractions could be strangling our muse and upsetting our creative rhythms, are you sure you want to do that?

John Cleese brings this up in one of his talks on creativity where he describes what he calls the ‘open mode’, a state of mind that promises to allow our natural creativity to flow. In order to get into the open mode, you have to escape the closed mode first and the way you do that is to allow yourself an ‘oasis’ of time and space with no distractions.

Yet if you’re fortunate enough to catch a creative wave, you can end up with a nagging, uneasy feeling. This is actually the early stages of your solution, all balled up and full of potential, but not yet formed. At this stage things feel unresolved and you might also be dreading that the good ideas will never come. In fact it’s in your best interest to sit with this tension for awhile in order to see things through.

Why the discomfort? One way to look at it is that our minds are very adept at closing the loop to find the quickest solution to a problem based on the data it has accumulated from the past. We feel confident when we think we’ve arrived at the best solution and from an evolutionary stand point, this behavior keeps us alive. But you might be riding high on false assumptions and the desired solution might not have anything to do with the past, especially if you want to come up with something new.

Your efficiency and impulse to feel smart has caused you to miss out on emergent and perhaps innovative opportunities. If you’re after something better, you might have to fight this instinct to feel better sooner in favor of enduring the uncertainty for a little bit longer.

When you allow your attention to be fragmented, you run the risk of losing that tension that Cleese states is inherent in the open mode way of thinking. In additional, you’ll probably incur a switching cost when your attention ping-pongs from one task to the next – another probable drain which could tax your energy to maintain the focus you want.

‘If something makes you feel a little nervous just thinking about it, this means you’re probably on the right track.’

– Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative

Being uncomfortable can suggest you’re moving past the status quo. Henry goes on to point out that sitting with that tension can be thought of as a ticket to a creative breakthrough or at least a ride to experience that creative flow. So it’s critical to hold on to that tension and resist the short term gratification or distraction which is always never far away in the form of the internet or a laundry list.

So the next time you’re feeling anxious and a little bit uncomfortable about a problem, instead of playing it safe maybe you should stick with it as long as you can and consider yourself lucky to be on the road to other possibilities and potentially better solutions.